Nel's New Day

March 27, 2012

Women Gaining Ground–Maybe

As the war on women moves through Women’s History Month, the opposition to women’s rights may be weakening slightly. The Catholic bishops’ struggle to control government decisions and taxpayer dollars regarding contraception flagged last week when U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns ruled that the government was in the right for refusing to renew a contract to the Catholic Church. The decision focused on the bishops’ decision to refuse key reproductive counseling and referrals for human trafficking victims with its $3 million grant. Stearns agreed with the ACLU on the basis that the bishops’ rules for federal funding violated constitutional prohibitions on church and state. The judge in the Massachusetts federal court wrote:

“To insist that the government respect the separation of church and state is not to discriminate against religion; indeed, it promotes a respect for religion by refusing to single out any creed for official favor at the expense of all others….This case is about the limits of the government’s ability to delegate to a religious institution the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others (who may or may not share them).”

He also cited an earlier Supreme Court ruling that stated the Framers “did not set up a system of government in which important, discretionary governmental powers would be delegated to or shared with religious institutions.” Last week’s ruling questions the entire basis of the George W. Bush’s federal faith-based contracting initiative that has given almost total power to groups like the Catholic bishops who are permitted to determine how  taxpayer dollars are spent.

The bishops wanted the issue resolved in their favor even though they no longer had the contract. Their success might continue their autonomy over spending public money—including selection of insurance that provides contraception. In losing this case, they may have lost even more than the control of spending their money as they wish. It is possible that the FDA would make oral contraception available over the counter, making birth control far more accessible to women and totally offending the Catholic bishops.

Another break in the conservative forces against abortion and contraception came from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) in an interview yesterday with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. She said that she opposes the loss of Medicaid funding for the state after Texas stopped funding for Planned Parenthood. “I think Planned Parenthood does mammograms, they do so much of the health care, the preventative health care, and if they’re doing that, then we need to provide those services, absolutely,” Hutchinson said.

Although almost no men directly support women’s fight for contraception, one Republican made a surprising statement at a rally for the Equal Rights Amendment. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) thinks that we women should give our money to Democrats. “I think these are very precarious times for women, it seems. So many of your rights are under assault,” he told the crowd of mostly women. “I’ll tell you this: Contribute your money to people who speak out on your behalf, because the other side—my side—has a lot of it. And you need to send your own message. You need to remind people that you vote, you matter, and that they can’t succeed without your help.”

The inequality between men and women in this country is made glaringly clear when male support for a female issue is totally unexpected—and when that male is a Republican, we find the support almost impossible to believe. We still live in a country where the Constitution defines a citizen as a male. But people like Richard Hanna may move us up the path toward more equality.

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